Northern City Line

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Northern City Line
Principal stations:

London Moorgate
Old Street
Essex Road
Highbury & Islington
Drayton Park
Finsbury Park
(for East Coast Main Line)

The Northern City Line is a former name for the railway line from Moorgate to Finsbury Park in London, once part of the Great Northern Electrics line. It should not be confused with the City branch of the Northern Line, nor with the North London Line.

The line was formerly part of London Underground, and during its history has been part of both the Metropolitan and Northern Lines, although it is connected to neither. It is now part of the National Rail network and is owned by Network Rail. Passenger services along the line are operated as part of the First Capital Connect franchise.

The line is underground from Moorgate to just south of Drayton Park, and runs in a cutting from there until meeting the East Coast Main Line south of Finsbury Park. Trains on the line run north to Hertford North, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage or Letchworth Garden City, forming the inner suburban service of the First Capital Connect Great Northern route.

The line is electrified — 25 kV overhead as far south as Drayton Park and 750 V third rail from there to Moorgate, due to the tube tunnels not having clearance for overhead electrification. Services are operated by Class 313 electric multiple units, the only units certified for use on the line. These trains are built to standard length and width, but are lower than conventional trains to allow them to operate in the tube tunnels, as are Class 314, 315, 507 and 508 units built to the same standard design, although with variations in train length and the power supply they operate from. Also, in keeping with the UK regulations for trains operating in single track tunnels, they have emergency doors at each end of the train, and are also designed so that when operating on 750v DC the two motor coaches are electrically separate as far as the traction supply goes.


The line was originally named the Great Northern & City Railway, and was intended to allow mainline trains of the Great Northern Railway to run from Finsbury Park directly into the City of London at Moorgate. Accordingly, the tubes were made large enough to take a main-line train, unlike those of the other tube railways being built in London at the time. However, the Great Northern was lukewarm about the scheme, and the GN&CR had to settle for a northern terminus in tube underneath Finsbury Park station. The line opened in 1904. It was originally electrified with an unusual fourth-rail system featuring a conductor rail outside each running rail. This was altered to the standard LT arrangement at a later date.

The GN&CR was bought in 1913 by the Metropolitan Railway, which operated today's Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and East London Lines. The Met made various plans to link it to some point on the Circle Line or to the Waterloo & City Line, but these never came to fruition.

After the Metropolitan was nationalised (along with the other underground lines) in 1933, the line was renamed the Northern City Line and became part of the Edgware-Morden Line (which became the Northern Line in 1937) for operational purposes. As part of London Underground's "New Works" programme, plans were made to connect the Northern City Line to the surface at Finsbury Park, and then join suburban branches to Alexandra Palace, High Barnet and Edgware. The Highgate branch of the Edgware-Morden Line would be connected to this network north of Highgate. By the time the Second World War started, the Highgate link and electrification of the Barnet branch were well under way, but work on the Northern City link was postponed.

This "Northern Heights" plan was dropped after the war, and the Northern City Line remained isolated from the rest of the network. Services were cut back from Finsbury Park to Drayton Park in 1964 to make room for the Victoria Line to use the platforms at Finsbury Park (Low level). The former Piccadilly line platforms are now the northbound Piccadilly/Victoria line platforms, and the former Northern City Line platforms are the southbound Piccadilly and Victoria line ones (of course, today trains once more go from Drayton Park to Finsbury Park, but to the high level station). In 1970 the line was renamed Northern Line (Highbury Branch). The following year, an agreement was made to transfer the line to British Rail and connect it (as was intended by its original promoters) to the main line at Finsbury Park. The last London Underground services ran in October 1975, and British Rail services commenced in August 1976. These BR services used the name "Great Northern Electrics". The track is now owned by Network Rail, and services to Hertford North (some extending to Stevenage and Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City are provided by First Capital Connect. The name "Northern City Line" has been revived to refer to the underground part of the route.

The Moorgate tube crash, the most serious railway accident on the London Underground system, occurred at Moorgate station on 28 February 1975, when a Highbury Branch train ran into the terminus at speed and crashed into the dead end of the tunnel beyond. The cause of the accident, which killed 43 people, was never determined.

The original generating station for the GN&CR was closed when the Metropolitan Railway took over, and became the studio of Gainsborough Pictures. After lying derelict for many years, it became a temporary venue for the Almeida Theatre, and has been redeveloped as apartments.

Railway lines in London:
North London:  Dudding Hill Line   Hertford Loop Line   Gospel Oak-Barking Line   North London Line   Northern City Line   Lea Valley Lines  
 St Albans Branch Line   Thameslink   Watford DC Line
East London:  Romford-Upminster Line
South London:  Bexleyheath Line   Bromley North Line   Catford Loop Line   Greenwich Line   Dartford Loop Line
 Hayes Line   Hounslow Loop Line   South London Lines   Tattenham Corner Line   Thameslink
West London:  West London Line
Proposed network: London Overground

Railway lines in the East of England:
Main lines: East Coast Main Line   Great Eastern Main Line
Cambridge-King's Lynn "Fen" Line   Cambridge-Norwich "Breckland" Line   Colchester-Clacton "Sunshine Coast" Line
Ely-Peterborough Line   Ipswich-Ely Line   London-Cambridge Line   London, Tilbury & Southend Line
Manningtree-Harwich "Mayflower" Line   Thameslink   West Anglia Main Line   
Commuter lines: Hertford Loop Line   Lea Valley Lines   Northern City Line   Romford-Upminster Line   
Shenfield-Southend Victoria Line   Witham-Braintree Line
Rural lines: Cambridge-Ipswich Line    Crouch Valley Line   East Suffolk Line   Grantham-Skegness Line
Ipswich-Felixstowe Line   Marks Tey-Sudbury "Gainsborough" Line   Norwich-Sheringham "Bittern" Line
Peterborough-Lincoln Line   Thorpe le Soken-Walton "Sunshine Coast" Line   Wherry Lines   

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